When it comes to recovery, we all want the same thing: family members, counselors and clinicians want the addict to get to and stay in long term recovery. So if we all agree that’s what we want, why does it feel like we’re at war with each other sometimes?

Case in point: about a week ago I replied to a tweet posted by someone I really admire who was referring to what worked with their loved one’s recent sobriety. A clinician replied and rather than congratulating this person for their loved one’s recovery, they remarked that one of the methods used still made them an addict in their eyes. WHAT?!

Now there was no way I could not respond to that, so I said that I was in favor of whatever helps an addict get to recovery and stay there; this is the real world not a case study. Funny, there was no reply from the clinician and therein lies the problem…

Look, rather than being civil in their disagreement, this person chose to be rude and that was completely unnecessary. We all know that addiction isn’t easy and whatever works should be embraced not discounted because there is no one-size-fits-all. I’m going to say something now that may not win me fans in the treatment field but I get so tired of all these clinicians and counselors spouting all these statistics and case work…life goes on after rehab!

It seems that some counselors, not all, seem to discount the family’s insights because they have a degree and we don’t. I’d love to ask some of these counselors and clinicians to have the addict come live with them in their home and try out some of their suggestions they give us and see how they make out. As my friend said “text book is not real life.”

I know the majority of counselors and clinicians mean well, but until you’ve lived with an addict in and out of recovery I’m going to look at you with a bit of a side eye because despite your best intentions you will never truly know how hard it is and how nonsensical some of these suggestions seem. I’m not saying the family knows everything because we obviously don’t, but please don’t just write off what we have to say because you went to school and we didn’t. This is not a competition: you don’t always know our loved ones better than we do because you’ve spent 30 – 180 days with them. In some cases they’re going to tell you exactly what you want to hear to make it through so they can get back out and use!

Believe it or not, sometimes we do know better than you. As a professional you may not be aware of options beyond what you offer, so as my friend put it we end up being “the orchestra conductor and connector to resources.” As a professional you only know what you’ve been taught and a seasoned addict can manipulate you to get whatever result they want.  How can I say this? Because my sister went through multiple, well known programs with well-respected and experienced clinicians for years and fooled every single one of them.

My point in all this is that we all want the same thing right: long term recovery for the addict and by working together as a community, we can ensure this happens by whatever means necessary!

Nadine Herring is the owner of Virtually Nadine, a virtual assistant company that provides online administrative support to addiction specialists and social service organizations. I specialize in working with this undervalued and overworked field to help them deal with the time consuming process of running an organization.

Connect with me on LinkedInGoogle+TwitterPinterest, or my website

So 2015 is almost over (where has the year gone?!) and I’m already looking past Christmas and thinking about New Year’s. 2015 has been a very, shall we say interesting year for me, in that I’ve had some (excuse the pun) great highs and lows and I’m just ready for this year to be over and on to 2016.

With the year ending comes the inevitable questions of what plans we have for New Year’s Eve and it made me reminisce on a time man years ago when my husband (then boyfriend) and I went to New York City to bring in the New Year…

It was about a year into our relationship and we were hanging out a lot. Looking back now, my husband was very active in his alcoholism and I did my best to keep up with him; don’t ask me why, I loved him, we were young and dumb and having a lot of fun. This was before our daughter was born, so we didn’t have a care in the world…

I remember watching Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve on television and thinking how cool it would be to go to Times Square to bring in the New Year. I mentioned this to my husband and he thought it was a great idea, so we jumped on the train that afternoon and headed down to the City.  We live about 2 hours from the City so we decided to pace ourselves and not drink on the way down, but as soon as we got to there, the first thing we did was hit a bodega and buy the biggest bottle of cheap champagne we could find! The beauty of New York City (if you’re not an alcoholic that is) is that you can buy alcohol from pretty much anywhere and no one bats an eye.

Drunk in the City

After we bought the champagne, we found a street vendor selling silly New Year’s glasses and horns and proceeded to walk around the city for hours drinking and just having a great time. Now since my husband was an alcoholic (though I didn’t realize it at the time), his tolerance was much better than mine so after a while the alcohol was definitely starting to affect me so what did we do? We found a doorway to sit in until my head stopped spinning and then we went and got something to eat from a street vendor of course!

Now seeing as this is NYC and literally anything goes, we saw lots of people drinking on the street and generally having a great time, so the two of us sitting in a doorway with a big bottle of booze in a brown paper bag and eating hot dogs was no big deal. Finally we finished off the bottle (it really was HUGE) and wandered around the city until it got dark and made our way over to Time’s Square.

It was FREEZING by that time judging by the attire of most people, but honestly we didn’t really feel the cold because we were a:) drunk and b:) surrounded by literally hundreds of thousands of people so we were just fine. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to be in the midst of all those people who were so happy to be there and looking forward to bringing in the New Year. There was singing and dancing and everybody was in such a good mood that it was a really fun place to be.

Finally the countdown began and we got to see the ball drop and ring in the New Year with hundreds of thousands of people in Time Square and millions around the world who were watching the broadcast because it was televised and it was a lot of fun. After a while we made our way back to Grand Central and caught the train back home and let me just say that I will never forget the river of vomit that flowed down the aisles of the train and all the people literally sprawled across the seats and floor of the train.

That New Year’s Eve is a good memory because it was my husband and I’s first New Year’s Eve together and we got to celebrate it in Time’s Square and a bad memory because clearly my husband was a major alcoholic and I didn’t even realize it! I was doing my best to keep up with him drinking wise and with the history of alcoholism in my family (my brother, my aunt, and my grandfather) this was clearly a very dangerous game I was playing.

That memory comes back to me sometimes around this time of year and it is a good reminder of how far we’ve come and how different our New Year’s celebrations are now. We are older, my husband has 15 years of long term recovery and we barely make it to the ball drop on television now and that is just fine with us!

New Year’s Eve for us now is grabbing a pizza, some wings, and some sparkling grape or apple cider and being grateful to make it through another year healthy, happy and together. While this may not be exciting for some people, it is perfect for us because we don’t have to deal with the crowds, the drunk drivers, the weather…we can just sit back in the comfort of our own home and celebrate the start of a new year.

I’m so grateful for my husband’s recovery; even after all these years I never lose sight of the fact that had he not found and committed to it he would not even be here. Our lives have become so much better since he found recovery; our relationship has never been stronger, we are each other’s best friend and I wouldn’t trade our New Year’s celebrations now for that old one all those years ago for anything in the world!

Nadine Herring is a social media virtual assistant and owner of Virtually Nadine, an online administrative support company. She is also a blogger that specializes in writing about addiction from the family perspective and community building & organizing. She is a family addiction advocate, community activist, Boston Celtics fan, runner, and owner of a small animal kingdom consisting of 2 dogs and 3 cats (all rescues).

Connect with me on LinkedInGoogle+TwitterPinterest, or my website

September is National Recovery Month. Now in its 26th year, Recovery Month celebrates those people who have gotten their lives back in long-term recovery and the support systems around them that make recovery possible. Recovery Month also promotes the message that recovery in all forms is possible and encourages the community to come together to help expand and improve access to services for those in need.

The recovery month theme “Join the Voices for Recovery: Visible, Vocal, Valuable!” highlights the value of peer support by educating, mentoring, and helping others. It invites individuals in recovery and their support systems to be catalysts and active change agents in communities, and in civic and advocacy engagements. – SAMHSA website

What a perfect theme for this moment in time in the addiction field: voices joining together to talk about and raise the visibility of the power of recovery! Not only is the issue of addiction and recovery being shown in the media through shows like A&E's “Intervention”, it is also being talked about openly and honestly on social media, on mainstream news websites like the Huffington Post, and with a first of its kind national rally in Washington in October: Unite to Face Addiction.

Why now? Why are people stepping out of the shadows and speaking up about addiction? I think it’s because addiction is becoming an epidemic and is exploding in parts of the country that have never experienced addiction issues before.  As a result entire communities are being destroyed, and people who may not have given much thought about addiction before because it didn't touch them personally, realize now that something must be done.

That something is providing more access to treatment rather than incarceration for those suffering from addiction. It's making sure that the family members of those suffering from addiction have access to treatment as well. And it's about sharing our stories of hope, happiness and success when recovery is achieved. Nothing is more powerful and touches more people than a story, and those of us who have been fortunate enough to get to long-term recovery have lots of stories to tell!

While I can't speak to recovery from the perspective of the addict, I can speak to it from the perspective of the family member. I know the devastation that comes from losing someone to addiction; I lost my brother 8 years ago to alcoholism and I still have not gotten over it nor have I properly grieved for him. I watched my husband battle an alcohol & drug addiction and my sister battle a crack addiction for years. To watch someone you love struggle so mightily with something you don’t fully understand is the most frustrating, heartbreaking, helpless feeling in the world. You go through their addiction right along with them and the fear, pain, worry and guilt is almost too much to bear…

But I also know the relief, joy, and pride that come from seeing my husband and sister overcome their addiction and achieve 14 years and 10 years of recovery respectively. I’ve seen them both repair relationships that were thought to be beyond repair and go back to being the amazing, loving people they were before addiction took over their lives. In the case of my husband, I’ve also seen him go back to school, get his associate’s degree and now work in the field as a drug & alcohol counselor to pay back the gift of his recovery. He is now pursuing his bachelor’s degree and will be working toward his license next year. The power of recovery has totally transformed their lives and I could not be prouder of either of them!

I also want to speak briefly about my own recovery. As I’ve written about before, 14 years ago I tried Al-Anon and it didn’t work because I didn’t think I needed help; sound familiar? I didn’t have time because I was busy trying to hold things together at home raising my daughter on my own and I didn’t want to deal with any issues I had with my family members’ addiction; it was their problem not mine. 14 years later those issues started to surface and it was my husband, who successfully achieved recovery through treatment and a 12-step program, who suggested that I give Al-Anon another try.

I’m so happy that I listened to him because I’ve been able to find peace and am working on my own recovery by dealing with issues and emotions I kept shut away for years. Al-Anon has had an amazing effect on me and it’s wonderful to have programs available to us as family members where we can work on our issues in a safe, non-judgmental space with others who are dealing with the same things and know that we are not alone.

Recovery is a POWERFUL thing, for the addict, the family, and the community. No matter how long it takes us to get there or what we gave to go through to get it, the goal is to get there and see all the joy, pride and success that are waiting for us because we are worth it!

Nadine Herring is the owner of Virtually Nadine, a virtual assistant company that provides online administrative support and social media management to addiction specialists and social service organizations. I specialize in working with this undervalued and overworked field to help them deal with the time consuming process of running an organization.

Connect with me on LinkedInGoogle+TwitterPinterest, or my website

As the year draws to a close, not only do people look forward to the holidays, but they also look back on what happened during the year and make plans for the New Year. For families that suffer from addiction this can be both a difficult time and a time full of hope.

The difficulty comes when you have lost a loved one due to addiction; the holidays seem to magnify the loss since the focus is on family. It can also be difficult if you have a loved one that you haven’t been in contact with for a while; not knowing where they are or having a way to get in touch with them, not knowing if they’re okay or if they need help…it can be devastating! How can you be happy and festive when you don’t know if your family member is alive or dead? How can you focus on spending time with family and friends when one of your family members isn’t there?

Trying to deal with these thoughts while remaining in the holiday spirit can be overwhelming and it is completely understandable if you’d just like to skip the holidays altogether, but as I mentioned at the top of the article this is also a time of hope…

Since the holidays are so focused on family, this may be the best time to try and reach out to your loved one and have them be receptive to your offer of help. Keep in mind that they could be missing you just as much as you’re missing them, so the thought of being home for the holidays could be very impactful. Just knowing that they’re on your mind at this time of year could be the extra incentive they need to finally get help!

It’s also a time of hope because it is a chance for a fresh start. With the New Year, you have a chance to start over, reset your life so to speak, and that is a very powerful feeling. For the person with the addiction it is a chance to accept or seek help, and for the family it is a chance to focus on themselves and their own recovery. 2015 may have been a horrible year, but 2016 offers the possibility for a positive change so how could you not feel hopeful about that?

When you’re dealing with addiction, it’s so easy to feel hopeless, like things are never going to change and your life is never going to get better. In some cases it may be easier to have this outlook because life has been bad for so long that the prospect of it changing seems out of the realm of possibility. I understand that thought process; I’ve been there, I lived it for many years when my family members were in active addition and it made me absolutely miserable.

What I am here to tell you is that you are not wrong for having those feelings; they are perfectly normal and no one should make you feel guilty for having them. Having said that though, it’s important not to let those feelings take over and keep you in a state of constant hopelessness. Having that type of mindset is not healthy for your loved one and it is not healthy for you.

As long as your family member is alive, there is always hope that they will accept help in getting to and staying in long term recovery. The holidays are the perfect time to share that hope because recovery is the gift that keeps giving long after the holidays have passed!

 Nadine Herring is a social media virtual assistant and owner of Virtually Nadine, an online administrative support company. She is also a blogger that specializes in writing about addiction from the family perspective and community building & organizing. She is a family addiction advocate, community activist, Boston Celtics fan, runner, and owner of a small animal kingdom consisting of 2 dogs and 3 cats (all rescues).

Connect with me on LinkedInGoogle+TwitterPinterest, or my website

September is National Recovery Month; how many people who don’t work in the addiction field or are addiction advocates do you think are aware of this? I can tell you that until a few months ago, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a National Recovery Month. Why is that?!

 How is it that the disease of addiction which affects about 23 million people in the U.S. (and millions more when you add in their family members and friends) gets a whole month dedicated to it and hardly anyone knows about it? I mean we all know that Breast Cancer Awareness Month is in October, American Heart Month is in February, American Diabetes Month is in November, and World AIDS Day is in December. So why isn’t National Recovery Month more widely known?

Breaking the Stigma of Addiction

I think a huge reason is because of the stigma attached to addiction. Addiction is a complicated disease that isn’t easily understood or treated, and because of that it can be hard to get people to come together and support it in the same way they do for other diseases. Another reason is because some people don’t think of addiction as a disease so they won’t acknowledge anything having to do with it. So how do we break the stigma surrounding addiction, educate people about it, and build support? We do this by speaking up!

By sharing our stories, we give people an insider’s view of what living with addiction is really like. Whether it is from the addict’s perspective, the family member or friend, the emotions that we go through while our loved one is in active addiction are all the same. Even if you’ve never been touched personally by the disease of addiction, the helplessness, fear, guilt, shame, sadness, and loss are feelings everyone can relate to. Addiction does not discriminate; it is not unique to a location, it is happening everywhere and many people are suffering in silence. By talking about addiction and bringing it out of shadows, we take away the shame and feelings of loneliness; we encourage, support and educate which takes away the stigma and misconceptions about the disease.

By sharing our stories, we also show that there is life after addiction. There is a tendency in the media to portray addiction as a doomed way of life that only leads to desolation or death and while sadly that does happen; those are not the only two options available when it comes to addiction. There is something called recovery and it is a beautiful thing!

The Beauty of Recovery

I looked up the word recovery and the definitions that struck me the most were: “a return to a normal state of health, mind and strength” and “the action or process of regaining possession of something stolen or lost” - Oxford Dictionary. When my family members were in active addiction it really did seem as if they lost their mind; I didn't know who these people were anymore, they had lost all control and were completely taken over by their addiction. While my brother lost his battle with addiction, my sister and husband were able to return to a normal state of health, mind and strength and regain possession of their lives through recovery. By going through treatment, and attending 12-step programs, my sister and husband were able to turn their lives around and are now thriving. Recovery not only gave them their lives back, but it also brought them back to the family and for that I will be forever grateful.

Recovery has also benefited me because I realized that I needed help as the family member of addicts. After 14 years, I went back to Al-Anon and it has truly been life changing for me. Now that my family members are in long-term recovery, I am learning to deal with emotions and issues I kept buried for years and while it hasn't been easy, it's been necessary and very healing!

Advocating for Addiction

The other piece that needs to be done to spread awareness about addiction and National Recovery Month is to increase advocacy. There was an excellent quote from an article about the heroin epidemic in the Telegraph-Forum by Dierdre Shesgreen recently that addresses the lack of resources to battle the problem. The article states in part: 'Treatment is expensive, and lawmakers are reluctant to shift limited federal dollars from law enforcement to public health programs. And there's no powerful lobby for addicts, most of whom want to stay anonymous and rebuild broken lives, not become a poster child for drug policy reform.'

The article also goes on to quote Stuart Gitlow, past president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and a physician in Rhode Island: “We don't have a pink ribbon. There is no nationwide 'Walk for Addiction', no celebrity spokesperson. We're not that kind of disease.” When I read this, I couldn't stop nodding my head in agreement because this is so true!

One of the ways the issue of lobbying can be addressed is to speak to your local elected officials and share your story of addiction with them to help them understand what addiction really is. Once they are educated, you can work with them to increase outreach, treatment and funding in your community. Another option is to work with local law enforcement to address how they deal with addicts. Treatment versus incarceration is a huge issue going on across the country and criminal justice reform is desperately needed, along with a shift in mindset by police to deal with the issue. Finally, holding public events to talk about addiction and recovery will go a long way to educate the community, as well as bring addicts and their families out of hiding to show that there is help, support, hope and encouragement for those dealing with addiction and that recovery is possible.

When we speak up and come together as one voice to talk about addiction, powerful things can happen and we can literally save lives!

Nadine Herring is the owner of Virtually Nadine, a virtual assistant company that provides online administrative support and social media management to addiction specialists and social service organizations. I specialize in working with this undervalued and overworked field to help them deal with the time consuming process of running an organization.

Connect with me on LinkedInGoogle+TwitterPinterest, or my website

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